If you find yourself in Rome wanting to come face to face with ancient history, the obvious landmarks come to mind: the Colosseum and the Forum. And they are quite spectacular. Must see sights, for sure.
But if you want to get a taste of Roman history without the hassle of crowds, or perhaps you have already seen the main attractions, you must consider exploring the Appian Way (or Via Appia Antica in Italian). What exactly is the Appian Way? Read on to find out, but let me give you some of the good news up front. It’s FREE to walk and inexpensive to bike!
History of the Appian Way
We’re all familiar with the Roman Republic (and later empire) that ruled the Mediterranean from about 509 BC to 27 BC, right? Well to keep tabs on this republic, transportation networks needed to be established for the quick movement of people and goods throughout the lands. And that’s where the Appian Way comes in.
In 312 BC, Appius Cladius Caecus, a Roman censor, established the road for military purposes. The road helped the Romans move troops and supplies, and is credited with helping them win the Second Samnite War.
Over time the road was improved and lengthened, and is the site of many significant historical events. After the defeat of Spartacus’ slave army in 71 BC, 6,000 slaves were crucified along the Appian Way as an example to all travellers. And during World War II the Allied forces and Germans fought the Battle of Anzio along the Appian Way, with the Allies eventually forcing the Germans to retreat north to Florence.
Pretty cool, right?
Thanks to Wikipedia for helping me with the history!
Where to Start
The best starting point to explore the Appian Way is the appropriately named Appia Antica Caffe (check out the Google Map at the end of the post to see all the landmarks). From here you can grab a coffee, salad, lasagna, scoop of gelato, Italian beer, or other tasty treat. If you make a left on Via Appia Antica outside the cafe, it will take you towards the Roman ruins and sculptures. If you head right, you can go to the Catacombs of Saint Callixtus and the Catacombs of Saint Sebastian.
We picked up paninis and a bottle of wine for our bike ride, and went next door to rent our bikes.
Along the Appian Way
Can you believe that no one else is in my biking picture on a beautiful Saturday on the Appian Way during the height of summer? My friend and I could not stop saying how amazing it was to do something so historic without dealing with long lines, crowds of tourists, or even pickpockets! We did see other visitors, but they seemed to be local Italians getting a little exercise by either power walking or biking.
As we biked we marvelled at the Roman statues and structures along the way, eventually stopping to eat our lunch and drink our vino in a shady spot. And how adorable is the little Appia Antica cat?!
If you’ve spent some time in Rome you know that the city has drinking fountains all over, and there’s even one on the Appian Way. If it’s as hot for you as it was for us, you’ll be filling up on the way out and the way back!
Thank you, Rome, for free water!
Despite the great engineering and durability of this old Roman road, it does require some concentration to avoid ditches and bigger stones. When the cobblestones are tiny and close together you can ride on the main road, but in parts where the stones are bigger and have gaps inbetween, you must ride on the bike path to the side.
Even though there were no cobblestones right here, I still took a tumble into a ditch! It was the slowest and most silly fall ever! But my shoes, bike, and phone were all intact after this fall so all I could really do was laugh at myself after.
Tips for Exploring the Appian Way
- Bring your dog! The Appia Antica Caffe is dog friendly and the old road is a great place to walk with your pup. It is really hot in the summer, so be sure to take breaks and hydrate (both you and your dog!).
- If you plan on visiting either of the nearby catacombs, be sure to look up the opening and closing times. Some are closed for lunch, and some are closed certain days of the week.
- Bring euro cash with you. This is not the kind of place with ATMs nearby.
- As an adult I struggled a bit with the bike over the rough terrain at some points, so I can only imagine that younger kids might have a hard time, too. If you’re thinking of taking your kids maybe you should scout it out a bit before